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18.3.15

Honoring Dutilleux, or Not

Henri Dutilleux, the celebrated French composer, died in 2013, so it is natural that at some point his local neighborhood government would commission a plaque to commemorate him at his residence (12, rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile). The possibility of doing so has reopened debate about the composer's connection to the Vichy regime. On Monday, a petition was created to gather signatures in support of Dutilleux, with just as much noise in opposition. Pierre Gervasoni published a long article on the controversy (Henri Dutilleux, « plaqué » par la Mairie de Paris, March 17) in Le Figaro (my translation):
As noted by Danielle Tartakowsky for the Comité d’histoire de la Ville de Paris in 2014: "I must point out some facts about the collaboration with the Vichy regime," she said. "Henri Dutilleux, when he was the singing master at the Opéra de Paris, composed the music for the propaganda film Forces sur le stade (1942)." As described in a reference book on the subject, Les documenteurs des années noires by Jean-Pierre Bertin-Maghit (éditions Nouveau Monde), it is a "propaganda film intended for factory bosses to convince them to build sports fields near the workplaces of their employees." Mme Tartakowsky goes on to state that "the implication of Henri Dutilleux in a political act of collaboration is not otherwise documented," and that "he does not seem, unless it can be proved otherwise, to have directly harmed or pursued the persecuted." As a result, she decided that "this homage was justified" and concluded with a proposal of four lines that might figure on the plaque. [...]

Unlike the Commission d'histoire de la Ville de Paris, we have actually watched Forces sur le stade. What does one see in this 15-minute documentary, initially titled Travail et grand air? More and more insistent images demanding that one exercise one's body through sport. What does one hear? Background music. Solemn (when the doors of the Jean Bouin Stadium open with fanfares from old-fashioned trumpets), playful (when children launch into a variation of Pop Goes the Weasel [Il court, il court, le furet]), and Hollywood-esque (for the end, which superimposes images of laborers at work and sports players in action).
Like most film composers in that period, Dutilleux recorded his music without ever hearing the spoken commentary. By the end of 1944, his score was used as the soundtrack of the Actualités du Comité de Libération du Cinéma Français. Gervasoni firmly rejects the idea that Dutilleux could have been a Pétainiste, citing the interception of his mail, which was censored by the Vichy authorities. He may, furthermore, have been silently reproaching himself all his life for his music appearing, even generically, in Forces sur le stade, including his 1990 commission for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, The Shadows of Time (1997), which has at its heart a vocal episode "dedicated to Anne Frank and all the world's children, innocents."

1 comment:

Pierre Brevignon said...

Thanks a lot for your very interesting insights. I've forwarded it on Facebook, where the Dutilleux scandal is discussed. Would you mind telling us where you've had the opportunity to see "Forces sur le stade" ? Sofar, I've only managed to find 1 or 2 screeen caps on the web...
Thanks !